Dubstep is an area of music that lends itself to the solitary, reclusive city composer, and as a result it can offer some incredibly insightful musical thought. That is exactly where we find ourselves with SBTRKT (or ‘Subtract’, to give him the vowels he deserves), a London producer keeping his real name quiet without the need for a super-injunction.
Currently he performs from behind a mask, letting the music speak for itself – which draws inevitable comparisons with Burial. In reality his musical language is rather closer to Jamie Woon and Jamie xx in execution. And what music it is. Raw emotion is delivered through a voice that often threatens to crack under the strain, giving an insight into our subject’s strengths and weaknesses, his loves and hates, with little more than a single finger keyboard melody for accompaniment. The feeling is akin to that of peering round the corner into a bedroom studio, watching the recording process for real in its undisturbed form.
Though SBTRKT’s style is a cousin of those mentioned above, it speaks in its own highly personal language, and even the addition of a few guest vocalists does not take away its intense, one to one level of communication. The minimal keyboard lines add a nervous tension, energetic in form but not able to fully release themselves. A brilliant example of this is the shimmering Sanctuary, with its lovelorn vocal, or Right Thing To Do, which comes across like a muffled take on Basement Jaxx.
The lyrics, too, are striking. Hold On notes how “you’re giving me the coldest stare, like you don’t even know I’m there”, an almost shocking realisation on the part of the singer. It’s one of several moments of genuine doubt and vulnerability, and is countered by Something Goes Right, where the urgency in the music only adds to the sense of unease.
The album knits together nicely, with elements of soul, dub, funk and house dovetailing neatly without sounding at all forced. Wildfire, the current single, shows how these can be channelled into something altogether more radio friendly. It is impressive how a record can negotiate so many different forms and keep the listener close at hand as this one does, its real life sound bites seemingly only for our ears.
It’s all over a little too quickly, but in the space of just over half an hour it has been possible to experience a full gamut of feelings, our sympathies firmly siding with our nameless host. That he has bared his soul without revealing his identity is perhaps the hallmark of the modern singer-songwriter, but don’t expect him to remain hidden for too long. With emotions this strong, the mask is bound to slip some time.